Though I didn’t have much fun playing through the alpha build of We Happy Few, I have to admit that I’m intrigued by the overly British stylized world and mystery surrounding it. After seeing the teaser trailers for We Happy few at various events, I was expecting a narrative driven game with a visual style heavily inspired by the Bioshock series. However, Compulsion Games have taken a very different approach than one might have expected. What I experienced was a survival game set in an alternate history England during the 1960s, where normal society has taken a turn for the worst.
In the alpha build, I played as a Downer within the town of Wellington Wells. The people there are kept under strict control through the use of pills called Joy, which allow people to only think and see happy thoughts and hallucinations. At some point before the game starts, my character stopped taking the Joy pills and began to see things how they truly were. Clean offices were rusted rooms, piñatas filled with candy were butchered dead rats, and the people were anything but what they seemed. It was an atmosphere straight out of a psychological horror film that raised more questions than it gave me answers.
When I finally got into the deeper part of the alpha, after a short chase sequence with the creepy looking guards from the game’s promos, I found myself in a very depressing town. Wellington Wells was filled with poverty, crippling abandoned buildings, and suspicious people all around. The town itself is procedurally generated, meaning the placement of characters and items will be different each time you boot up the game. I not only had to focus on completing a series of quests to escape the town, but I had to do so while keeping track of my hunger, thirst, and inconspicuousness with the townsfolk. This is where the survival aspect of the game kicked in and became the focus of my entire experience.
Moving around the town Welling Wells was always an exercise in putting myself at risk. The constant need to search for food and water was a struggle in staying out of sight from suspicious people, who would attack me if they saw anything out of the ordinary. Controlling my character was similar to most first-person shooters, but with a detailed inventory and crafting system that became vital to my progress. If I got hurt from a skirmish with someone, I needed to craft healing items to restore my health or cancel out status effects, like bleeding or infections. Even sprinting around from one point to the next took its toll on my character, requiring me to eat and sleep to recover my strength.
While this was interesting to see taken to such an extreme, it didn’t turn out to be as fun as I had hoped it would. A lot of the story can take a backseat to you trying to survive in the harsh environment for a long time. It took me a while to gather the items needed to complete a quest and progress further, which came from going through a few in-game days gathering stuff that spawned in different locations. Within that time, I did find various notes that fleshed out a bits of the world and the history behind Wellington Wells. They may have not given me answers to the bigger questions I had, but they definitely tugged at my curiosity about how everything came to be as it was.
It’s still way too early to pass any kind of judgment on We Happy Few, since this was only an alpha build of the game. A few times I experienced some bugs and glitches that really showed the game’s early stages of development, but there is a solid foundation here. Though I found the survival elements to be more tedious and annoying than they were fun, the bits and pieces of story I put together about the town is what kept me wanting to play more. It will be interesting to see how much of this gets adjusted during development by the time We Happy Few finally releases.